Text Study for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Joseph Winston April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14
In a scene that has been popularized in song, the prophet is carried up to a place where you can only see death. Inside this dark valley, he finds many dry bones that indicate the unquestionable finality of this world. There the L ORD address the prophet with the phrase “son of man” (and not mortal as given by the NRSV). This distinction is important because the phrase “son of man” could also refer to Jesus. The words are then given to the prophet and he speaks them out loud for the bones to hear. The L ORD transforms the bones into bodies but they are not living because God’s Spirit is not in them. Once again the words are given by the L ORD and from all over creation, God’s breath comes into these dead ones. Now the bodies can stand up and Ezekiel is told who they are. These living humans are all of Israel. God now tells Ezekiel what the people are saying. We are dead and we have no future. God promises them that they will live again in Israel (not in heaven). This resurrection will let them know who is the Lord.

Psalm 130
The psalmist, in grief and anguish, cries out to the L ORD and asks that the L ORD pay attention to what is happening. He acknowledges that his life has been filled with mistakes but that he has already been forgiven. But nothing has been happening at all. He waits and watches for God more than that people whose shift ends 1

at dawn look forward to getting off of work. The focus now moves toward Israel. Everyone needs to know that the L ORD gives love and has the strength to pay off your debts.

Romans 8:6-11
Paul in this portion of the letter, reminds us to focus on what brings life. Our body rebels against God’s law. But inside each of us is God’s breath and this is what determines who is a Christian. This force from God brought Jesus back to life and it also will raise you from the dead.

John 11:1-45
At the beginning of today’s lesson, Mary and Martha send Jesus a short message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill. (John 11:3).” Their request is really a prayer for Jesus to come and give them what they want most in the world for their brother. Mary and Martha want Lazarus to be well. The answer that Jesus gives to this request may surprise you. He stays away from Lazarus and due to the deliberate delay on Christ’s part Lazarus dies. Jesus then states to His followers that, “This illness does not lead to death (John 11:4a).” The disciples do not understand what Jesus is trying to say. This point is illustrated a bit later in our text. Jesus states, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him (John 11:11).”Confused by why Jesus would go and wake a sleeping person in an area that has already been hostile to Him, they respond with, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right (John 11:12).” It is crystal clear that Christ’s followers do not yet see what it means to believe in Jesus when He tells them, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe (John 11:14b-15).” The first part of Christ’s response to this group is fairly obvious. Jesus plainly tells everyone that Lazarus is dead. It is the second part of this quote that often causes us problems. Since we already know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead, when we hear that the disciples do not believe, we might assume that Jesus means that faith comes through 2

the witness of miracles. And if we are honest with ourselves, we might grieve that we have not seen our share of miracles. But this is not what Jesus is telling us at all.We know this for a fact because the disciples have already seen their share of miracles and they still do not believe. There were with Him when He changed the water into wine, when He fed the five thousand, and when He healed nobleman’s son, the lame man at the pool, and the bind man. What will one more miracle do for them? Instead of relying on all of these extra-ordinary signs, Jesus wants us to have faith because we see the ordinary, everyday light that He brings into the world. This is clearly heard when Jesus states, “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25a).”1 It is difficult for use to understand this phrase. First, the translators of today’s text have done us all a disservice by having Jesus say “I am” in other places when that is not what He said at all. All the other examples in today’s Gospel where Jesus says “I am” are not times where Jesus is stating that He is the Lord God. Instead, He is doing something in that sentence. Jesus does not say “I am going there to awaken him.” Rather the Greek tells us that, “I go to wake up Lazarus (John 11:11).” Nor does He say, “I am glad I was not there” instead Jesus states “I rejoice that I was not there (John 11:15).” All this points to one fact, we do not speak Greek and it is hard to hear what Jesus is really saying. By uttering the words, “I am,” He is making the argument that He is God. In fact, He is the same God that gave His name as “I am” at the burning bush. He is the One named “I am” who puts flesh on the dead bones in the first lesson (Ezekiel 37:6b; 37:13a). When we know that Jesus is making the argument that He is God, this phrase “I am the resurrection and the life” reads, “God: the resurrection and the life.” There is something rather strange with this group of words. There are no verbs in this phrase. All we have are three nouns, two direct articles, and a conjunction. Because of this fact, we do not know when the attributes of “resurrection” and “life” are to be applied to God. We have to make this decision using faith. There is something else odd about this formula, which appears in John. Resurrection only occurs after death. Did God’s attributes change after sin entered into the world? If we answer yes, this gives concern for those individuals who speak of God’s “immutability.” If we answer no, then we have to deal with fact that God created us even though God knew we would sin and need resurrection. Did God give resurrection and life in the past? Yes. God is currently the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Does God give resurrection and life today? Yes. Look

This is the only γώ ε ι formula in the chapter.


around and see how God is working in this place. Will God give resurrection and life tomorrow? Yes. We trust that God will continue to save us. This is how we are to understand, Christ’s Words to Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25b-26a).” What Jesus is telling you is, “Even though all believers close their eyes in death, God, the resurrection and the life, never forgets them. They will live due to Christ’s relationship with them. Do you believe this?” This way of describing God as the One who has always given resurrection and life, who currently gives resurrection and life, and who will always give resurrection and life means that we are freed to do other things with our lives. We have been called to live life to the fullest by taking care of others. We need not care what the cost might be to us because we believe in the God who gives resurrection and life. John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany – Some scholars think that Lazarus was the beloved disciple.2 The name Lazarus means “God helps.” Moloney argues that this detail about Lazarus is not important in the story.3 John 11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair – Notice the problem with time in this verse. The author assumes that we already know the story of Mary and Jesus. But we have not yet been told this story because it occurs in John 12:1-11. Some interpreters see this as a deliberate literary technique that makes the hearer want to know more about the story while others view it as a parenthetical expression.4 John 11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus – Rather than leaving their brother’s side, they send an unnamed messenger to carry this word. Since the sisters were not married, they depend on the care of other men in their lives such as Lazarus. We do not know their age nor are we given any information on why they are single. Another possible interpretation is that they are independently wealthy and do not need men to take care of them.
S.D.B. Francis J. Moloney; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 336. 3 Ibid., p. 335. 4 Ibid., p. 336.


John 11:4 This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. This is a summary of this lectionary lesson.5 In fact, the raising of Lazarus is the start of the glory that Jesus has already spoken of in John 7:39 and 8:52-54.6 Only three times in John (5:25; 11:4; 11:25) does Jesus call himself the Son of God.7 Does Lazarus mean anything to the early community? Does he represent those people who die before Jesus comes again? In John’s Gospel this does not seem likely because Jesus sends the Paraclete. John 11:5 Accordingly, though – This is a strange translation of δ . The sentence in Greek reads γάπα δ Ιησο ς τ ν Μάρθαν κα τ ν δελφ ν α τ ς κα τ ν Λάζαρον “However, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:6 he stayed two days longer in the place where he was – Out of love, Jesus stayed where he was.8 This shows us that we cannot measure Jesus or His actions using our limited knowledge.9 Also, the selection of time by Jesus in going to Lazarus is also fixing the time of His death. John 11:7 go to Judea again – In the context of the Gospel according to St. John, It must be assumed that the movement of Jesus is in response to the Father’s will. John 11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi . . . ” – When Jesus is addressed as Rabbi, the disciples show that they still do know Him.10 the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again? – For us, Jesus is willing to go into the midst of trouble. John 11:9 Those who walk during the day do not stumble – One of the practical reasons for carrying a light with you is to keep from tripping. On another level, this is a warning to those who try to live without the light of Christ. No matter how hard you try, you will hit something in the middle of the night. You could hurt your toe or you might fall down and break something.
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 322. Ibid., p. 325. 7 Ibid., p. 336. 8 Ibid., p. 325. 9 Ibid., p. 326. 10 Ibid.
6 5


John 11:10 light is not in them – This means that they are not seeing since the eye was the seat of light for Jews of this time.11 John 11:11 Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him. – Why does Jesus not come out and say it that Lazarus is dead? This also provides a foreshadowing what will happen. I am going – The Greek does not have the “I am” rather it reads πορεύο αι “I go.” We have to assume that Jesus is following the desires of the Father. In other words, Jesus moves at God’s will and not at our command.12 John 11:12 Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right. – This yet is another poor translation by the NRSV. The Greek reads κύριε ε κεκοί ηται σωθήσεται “Lord, if he has fallen asleep he will be saved.” John 11:13 speaking about his death – The narrator provides the audience with a detail that still escapes the disciples understanding. John 11:14 Jesus told them plainly – Now, the disciples know what was first told to the audience in verse 13. It appears that the followers of Jesus have a hard time understanding what Jesus says. Maybe, this is a lesson that needs to be underlined that Christians read interpretations into the Word of God that just are not present. John 11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. – It appears that one of the functions of this miracle is to help the Jews, the disciples, along with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus come to faith. John 11:16 Let us also go, that we may die with him. – This proclamation by Thomas is the first time that the verb to die ( ποθν σκω) is applied by someone else to Jesus.13 Jesus will use the death to bring faith to the disciples but Thomas and the others misunderstood Jesus and the threat from the Jews and they think that Jesus is going to die.14
11 12

Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 337. Ibid., p. 326. 13 Ibid., p. 322. 14 Ibid., p. 327.


While it is possible to read this verse that the disciples want to die like Lazarus, it misses the point that the disciples do not grasp what is happening.15 John 11:17 four days – It does not take a day for a messenger to travel two miles nor does it take this long for the walk back. Something else is happening here that we are not privy to. The implied reason for the delay is that Jesus is doing the will of the Father and that people might come to see Jesus for who He is. John 11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away – The giving of the location of Bethany seems to say that this Gospel was directed toward people who did not live in the area of Jerusalem. The distance of 15 stadium (σταδίων δεκαπέντε) would make it easy for visitors to come from Jerusalem. John 11:19 to console them – The verb translated as “to console” (παρα υθέοαι) is used four times in the New Testament (John 11:19; John 11:31; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). John 11:20 she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home – Much is read into the behavior of the two women. Little of it seems to make any sense at all. John 11:21 my brother would not have died – Faith in Jesus is not faith in one who works miracles. (John 2:23-25; 1:49-51; 3:1-11; 4:25-26; 6:25-27; 7:31)16 John 11:22 I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him. – When Martha tells Jesus that whatever you ask of God, God will give you, this does not indicate that Martha was following Christ in “spirit and truth” instead it refers to the idea of 1st Century Jews that miracle workers had “privileged” access to God.17 John 11:23 Your brother will rise again – The raising of Lazarus and others is promised earlier in John 5:25-28.
15 16

Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 337. Ibid., p. 327. 17 Ibid., p. 338.


John 11:24 I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. – Martha tells Jesus her interpretation of what happens at the end. However, it is Jesus who defines what the resurrection is because He is the resurrection and the life. John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life. – This is the only γώ ε ι formula in the chapter. Jesus is saying that God brings life and life is God. John 11:26 everyone who lives and believes in me will never die – Despite the discussion raised by Moloney and others, there is no discussion of spiritual life in verse 25 or verse 26.18 What appears in the text is the verb ζάω that means to live. John 11:27 I believe – The verb for belief (πιστεύω) here is πεπίστευκα it is a first person singular, perfect tense, active voice, indicative mood. How this is translated changes Martha’s understanding of Jesus. If perfect tense is used (have believed) then faith came in the past and continued in the future. This allows for the possibility that some other message brought Martha to this conclusion.19 However, the present tense is given in the NSRV and it appears then that Martha is responding to Jesus. John 11:28 The Teacher is here and is calling for you. – Despite Martha’s public profession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, she tells her sister Mary something very different. John 11:29 she got up quickly – Mary hears Christ’s voice in her sister’s message and quickly answers.20 John 11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village – The narrator provides the audience with a detail about location. John 11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her – As Jesus moves into the scene, it appears that only Martha goes out to meet Him. This raise the question, “Do we pay attention to the dead Lazarus or the living God?”21 This question might be a bit harsh side because the Jews are trying to comfort the sisters.
18 19

Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, pp. 328, 338-339. Ibid., p. 339. 20 Ibid., p. 329. 21 Ibid.


John 11:32 she knelt at his feet – The NRSV has a poor translation of what is happening. The Greek has πεσεν α το πρ ς πόδας “fell at his feet.” This typically indicate an act of worship. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – Here Mary gives Jesus her unconditional trust. Some see these words by Mary as a better confession of faith than Martha’s.22 John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. One interpretation could be that the death of a dear friend has deeply moved Jesus. Another way of looking at this sentence would be that Mary’s tears moved the focus of attention from Jesus back to the dead Lazarus. He becomes upset, as if to say, “Does anyone believe?”23 Moloney states that the weeping done by Jesus is different than the others weeping due to the two different verbs. Moloney then argues that Jesus is weeping because He is not being understood and due to the danger that He has placed Himself in.24 Another way of looking at this verse is to notice that the “Jews” are not focusing their attention on Jesus and this is yet one more reason for Jesus to be upset. It seems that Jesus has a different type of weeping, not because He is more like God, but instead that He is more human that we are. He sees first hand what sin does to those who He love. John 11:34 Where have you laid him? – Is the location important to Jesus? John 11:35 weep – This is the only occurrence of the verb δακρύω in the New Testament. In the LXX, this verb is used in Job 3:24 (For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters. KJV), Ezekiel 27:35 (All the inhabitants of the isles shall be astonished at thee, and their kings shall be sore afraid, they shall be troubled in their countenance. KJV), and Micah 2:6 LXX. With its three words and 16 letters ( δάκρυσεν Ιησο ς) many people have thought that this is the “shortest” verse in the Bible. Of course, this
22 23

Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 340. Ibid., p. 330. 24 Ibid., p. 331.


assertion does not even make any sense because the authors did not write in verses. However, if the versification is honored, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is shorter with two words and 14 letters (πάντοτε χαίρετε). John 11:36 See how he loved him! – There appears to be no reason to doubt the sincerity of this observation by the “Jews.” John 11:37 Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? – Which is harder? To bring sight to those who cannot see, to bring life from the dead, or to bring faith? John 11:38 It was a cave – This is a typical burial site for this time.25 John 11:39 Take away the stone – Here the order is given at Christ’s Resurrection the stone is already gone. Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days. – If Jesus is the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24), then does this indicate a lack of belief as Moloney wants or does this simply indicate the obvious fact that the last day has not yet arrived?26 John 11:40 see the glory of God – Moloney argues that while all see what happens, only the believer actually knows that it is God’s glory.27 John 11:41 I thank you for having heard me. – Some do not see this as a prayer but instead a quote of Psalm 118:21.28 John 11:42 I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here – What is the purpose of these words if only those with faith see God’s glory? John 11:43 Lazarus, come out! – God works in the world even though people do not see what He is doing. The “resurrection”/”resuscitation” of Lazarus is not the point of the story. It is the sign that points to God; it is given freely so that others may believe in Jesus.
25 26

Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 341. Ibid., pp. 332, 341. 27 Ibid., p. 342. 28 Ibid.


John 11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound – There is another mircle here. The bindings did not keep Lazarus from responding to the Word of the Lord.29 John 11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. – But others plotted His death because many believe that the “state” should be the only one who hands out life and death.

Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).


Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 343.


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